People have been coming together for centuries to visit the fair. Be it for trading or commercial interests, or simply to indulge in an afternoon of pleasure-seeking, the fair encapsulates a surprisingly long-lived tradition that can trace its roots back to the Middle Ages. Hundreds of fairs still exist in Britain today, such as Tavistock Goose Fair in Devon and St Giles’ Fair in Oxford, and many are an important part of the yearly calendar, often held in autumn just after the harvest, or in spring, when traditionally travel would become easier. Some have been located on more or less the same site for centuries and even pre-date the history of the town or settlement in which they are held. While the Victorian era is often considered the golden age of the fairground, fairs were the original focal point of commerce for hundreds of years prior to this, and their origins are a little more humble.
One of the perils, as well as the pleasures, of doing our family history is when our research finds something that may be called a ‘skeleton in the closet’. While this can be exciting, it may need to be handled sensitively when sharing it with others in the family. To them it may be considered very embarrassing that you have found out that one of their ancestors had a spell in an asylum, or went to prison. No matter what our ancestors did it is best not to judge them as we will never know all the exact circumstances from our comfortable viewpoint in the 21st century. We always need to understand that our forebears lived in different times with different values and preoccupations. Their reasons for covering up an event may have seemed completely logical to them, while to modern eyes it seems a bit odd.
For centuries, Britons have navigated the water and in the July issue we considered our ancestors’ experiences of travelling in traditional rowing boats, barges and punts. Steamboats also entered the nautical scene over 200 years ago, offering another means of transport and many more opportunities for pleasure rides on sea, river and lake.
Following the Great Fire of London (1666) fire insurance boomed and insurance companies raised their own brigades of part-time firemen. Immediately, the value of a distinctive uniform was understood, to encourage an esprit de corps and promote firefighters’ public image. Many companies issued their men with livery caps, coats, waistcoats and breeches resembling regular dress but in a designated colour like blue, green or crimson. The prominent metal company badge on the left arm was very important, signifying the integrity of both the wearer and the insurance company he represented, while metal or wooden batons bearing company insignia demonstrated his authority. By the late 1700s some were wearing crested leather helmets, a wide brim extending into a neck-flap: early protective work wear.
Before the Romans arrived in Britain, the land now forming the county of Carmarthenshire was part of the kingdom of the Demetae who gave their name to the county of Dyfed; it contained one of their chief settlements, Moridunum, now known as Carmarthen. The Romans established two forts in South Wales, one at Caerwent to control the south-east of the country, and one at Carmarthen to control the south-west. The fort at Carmarthen dates from around 75 AD, and there is a Roman amphitheatre nearby, so this probably makes Carmarthen the oldest continually occupied town in Wales.
In this, the fully updated second edition of his bestselling guide to researching Irish history using the internet, Chris Paton shows the extraordinary variety of sources that can now be accessed online. Although Ireland has lost many records that would have been of great interest to family historians, he demonstrates that a great deal of information survived and is now easily available to the researcher.
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